Teacher couple suspected of $100m theft from de Kooning may have stolen more art

On Friday, woman ocher, A $100 million abstract-expressionist painting by master Willem de Kooning is on display at the University of Fine Arts Museum of Art nearly four decades after it was stolen from the same building — and five years after it was mysteriously discovered in a New Mexico home Arizona issued belongs to two retired public school teachers.

Simultaneously with the museum exhibit, new FBI documents were released related to the 1985 theft committed by a man and woman but for which no one was ever charged, and provide more insight into the lives of Rita and Jerry’s old, former New York teachers and New Mexico transplant recipients whose home contained the stolen painting.

The 1985 de Kooning robbery was clever: early on November 29, a couple who had been waiting outside the opening of the university museum entered at around 9 a.m. While the woman distracted a museum attendant, the man walked up the stairs and cut the de Kooning open from its frame and rolled it up, authorities said. The couple fled in a sports car, and the painting disappeared for decades.

As The Daily Beast reported in 2017, police were called in and sketches of the suspects were made, but no leads emerged. The museum had no surveillance cameras at the time, and the couple had managed to escape without leaving fingerprints or other identifying information. The woman was described as slightly older and had a shawl tied around her head; The man had dark hair and a mustache.

Sketch of couple suspected of stealing artwork.


After Rita and Jerry died and an antique dealer paid $2,000 for the contents of their home, Mrs. Ocher was found behind her bedroom door and authorities were alerted.

The evaluation of the newly accessible FBI documents that Republic of Arizona found that a further search of Alter’s estate uncovered two more paintings by Joseph Henry Sharp and Victor Higgins, famous Western artists whose works often fetch six figures.

The documents also show that while the FBI continues to refuse to reveal whether they believe the Alter stole de Kooning or other artwork, the FBI investigated the couple in 2018 in connection with the theft of a yet-to-be-found Navajo blanket from a other Arizona has examined museum.

The Daily Beast has reached out to the FBI and the University of Arizona Museum of Art for comment.

From 1975 to 1977, Christy Miller worked alongside Rita at GW Stout Elementary School in Silver City, New Mexico; Miller is a special education teacher while Alter worked as a speech therapist.

“You and I need to be good friends,” Miller told The Daily Beast. One night, she, her husband, and their two daughters “went out to dinner with Jerry and Rita.”

“Rita could very well have participated because it was Jerry and she adored him and I know that people are capable of anything. Part of me says maybe they did.”

— Christy Mueller

“They had a great collection from all their travels because they were avid travelers, but we had absolutely no idea at the time” that the couple might be capable of theft, Miller said.

“Rita may have done very well because it was Jerry and she adored him and I know people are capable of anything. Part of me says maybe they did,” Miller added.

While the couple appeared to be great art lovers, “I don’t recall ever seeing art [in their collection]but there were so many things to see and it’s been so long that I can’t remember if they had any really good art,” Miller said.

In particular, Miller recalls seeing African and Tahitian art at the House of Ages.

After de Kooning was spotted at her friend’s house in 2017, Miller was “very surprised,” she told The Daily Beast. “I didn’t know Jerry as well as Rita, but she was such a gentle, lovely woman. She was a great speech therapist, she really loved her job.”

When the painting was discovered at Alter Estate in 2017, it was found to be damaged, neglected and faded. After recovering the masterpiece, FBI documents reveal even more eyebrow-raising details: Although Rita earned a modest public school salary of $16,171 in 1979, she owned several bonds worth over $1 million at her death.

Despite their modest professional lives, the FBI documents also show that the Alter traveled lavishly — in all, they visited about 145 countries — and kept diligent travel journals, one of which shows them driving in New Mexico in March 1985. the year the theft occurred.

Noting the possibility that the Alter really stole from de Kooning, her nephew Ron Roseman shared his theories about how the couple might have justified such a crime.

“Either they genuinely thought it was a victimless crime, or they didn’t care who was involved,” Roseman said republic. “I could see it both ways. For both.”

On Friday night, Miller will attend a reception at the University of Arizona Museum of Art to celebrate the return of de Kooning. Reflecting on her friendship with Rita, “I have mixed feelings,” Miller told The Daily Beast. “I’m confused, but I’m not mad at her.”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/teacher-couple-suspected-in-dollar100-million-de-kooning-theft-may-have-stolen-more-art?source=articles&via=rss Teacher couple suspected of $100m theft from de Kooning may have stolen more art


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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